Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Veconi on how to create accountability in future megaprojects (enforceable commitments, competition, etc.) and the possibility for change

In his Patch blog, Gib Veconi of Brooklyn Speaks writes an insightful essay headlined Exporting Atlantic Yards: Other cities in other countries are looking to learn from Atlantic Yards. Here's what it can teach them.

He begins:
I’ve heard people comment that the depth and tenacity of community opposition to the Atlantic Yards project has ensured that a similar scheme will never happen again in Brooklyn. But even without advocates, it would be difficult to imagine the same circumstances coming together here anyway. Atlantic Yards, after all, required a developer with the resources and political connections to add to its portfolio at the busiest intersection in Brooklyn by brazenly subverting State urban renewal law, while at the same time staging a multi-level communications campaign to create the impression by doing so it was actually providing benefits to the public. The success of the strategy was dependent not just on the limited bandwidth of local elected officials to see the end game, or even on the lock-step sponsorship of Mayor Bloomberg and four New York State Governors (a major help), but also upon the developer’s brilliant timing of the Brooklyn real estate market: in retrospect, it seems pretty clear that 2003 was about the last year it would have been possible to claim with a straight face that the ground Forest City Ratner wanted was blighted and therefore warranted a solution as disruptive and one-sided as Atlantic Yards.
Increasing accountability

The lessons he's shared with some international visitors, elaborated on in his post, include:
  • Create a competitive environment. 
  • Involve local elected representatives early.
  • Quantify the benefits in both degree and time. 
  • Make sure the commitments are enforceable. 
  • Move in phases. 
I'd add that the quantification must happen from the start: estimates of project benefits should include a best-case, worst-case, and muddling through scenario.

Lessons for AY going forward?

His conclusion:
It’s also not too late for lessons from Atlantic Yards to be applied here in Brooklyn. A 2011 court decision effectively reversed ESDC’s 2009 approval of changes to Atlantic Yards’ second phase that extended the project from 10 to 25 years. ESDC is responsible not only for preparing additional environmental analysis on the effect of such a delay, but must also consider alternatives that get Atlantic Yards done on the schedule under which it was originally approved. We and our elected leaders must demand those alternatives include concepts like competition among developers, local oversight, and real commitments that can be enforced. If we can win those things at Atlantic Yards, we’ll really have something to show the rest of the world.
That won't be easy. Few expect the ESDC to do anything other than endorse Forest City Ratner's intentions and timetable.

The campaign

I posted a comment:
I'd add that the public relations campaign involved not only community proxies (some with significant credibility, others without) to validate Atlantic Yards but also national/international superstars:
--hip-hop entrepreneur/tastemaker Jay-Z
--architect Frank Gehry (succeeded by SHoP)
--sports economist Andrew Zimbalist
Those conditions would be hard, though not impossible to duplicate. After all, Forest City Ratner has involved Jay-Z and SHoP in its bid to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum.

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